UGA’s ‘thin’ DL gets its chance to battle during Saturday scrimmage
On paper, Georgia’s two lines of scrimmage couldn’t appear more different. The offensive line enters the season trailed by accolades. The defensive line approaches the year surrounded by questions. Yet the two groups apparently battled Saturday without a clear winner emerging.
The Bulldogs were inside Sanford Stadium for the first scrimmage of spring practice, and in the showdown of offensive vs. defensive lines the results were mixed.
“It was hit or miss,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said. “In the beginning, the defense was playing with more of a chip on their shoulder. But as the scrimmage progressed, the third down, the red area, and all the other situations, the offense asserted itself, especially in the red area. You can’t be that inconsistent for what we want our offense to be physicality wise, we’ve got to be more consistent doing it. But at times, they did do it.”
“Hit or miss” might seem like a normal occurrence for a scrimmage against your own teammates — where every good play will likely force coaches to notice an equally impactful blunder on the other side of the ball. Indeed Smart admitted scrimmages can be difficult to evaluate in the moment.
“It’s never as good as it seems, never as bad as it seems,” Smart said. “I heard that a long time ago, you leave the scrimmage thinking ‘man, that was a good scrimmage,’ then you watch it and you’re like ‘ugh, we’ve got a long way to go.’ Then you walk off the field feeling like you’re terrible and you’re not very good, then you watch it and it was better than you thought. I try not to get on the whole emotional roller coaster of it.”
So-called “emotional roller coasters’ not withstanding, Smart hasn’t been afraid to call out a clear winner in these contests when he’s seen them before.
“The offense is striking a blow — a violent blow in knocking people back,” Smart said of a similar scrimmage in 2017. “[the defensive line] is not playing tough, physical football right now.”
This weekend’s scrimmage apparently didn’t offer as decisive an outcome. Given the expectations for the two units, that might be a win for the defensive line.
Georgia’s offensive line is seemingly loaded. Both UGA’s starting tackles are former Freshmen All-Americans, and two of its possible reserves are former 5-star recruits. This is arguably as deep and talented an offensive line as any program in the country, and quite possibly the best the Bulldogs have had in program history.
The defensive line doesn’t have the same reputation — especially given the injuries this spring. In fact, Smart was recently candid in describing the challenges that unit is currently facing.
“Defensive line is, like, super thin,” Smart said earlier in the spring. “We don’t have enough depth there.”
Defensive tackle Julian Rochester isn’t practicing this spring due to a knee injury. Defensive tackle Michail Carter is limited because of a shoulder injury, and defensive end David Marshall is still recovering from a foot injury.
Yet even with those absences, there are still some potential stars who could emerge from the group.
“I think Tyler Clark’s a difference maker when he wants to be, when he’s playing hard and playing quick,” Smart said. “In a very unique way, Jordan Davis is a difference maker. He’s not explosive and quick but he’s a mountain of a man and he’s hard to move. In the SEC, you need a guy like that… When you count the defensive line, sometimes you count the defensive ends. I thought Nolan (Smith) played with a high motor today and played really explosive. He’s got to get more physical in the run game, but he certainly plays hard and you know he’s out there because he covers down and makes plays.”
Difference-making defensive linemen are one of the hallmarks of top teams — especially in the SEC — and the competition UGA’s defensive linemen are waging with the Bulldogs’ vaunted offensive line shouldn’t be discounted as a step toward creating a defensive front that’s as heralded as their counterparts on the other side of the ball.
In fact, when Smart credited the 2017 offensive line with “striking a violent blow” against the defense during practice, a lot of fans were probably surprised. At the time, the offensive line was the unit that was thought to be thin. The year before it had only been ninth in the SEC in rushing offense.
However, what Smart saw that day in practice the world has seen ever since. Georgia has led the conference in rushing in each of the last two years.
A year after being only 31st in rushing yards allowed per game, it’s now UGA’s defensive line’s turn to strike its own blow during practice.
It might not’ve happened Saturday, but there’s still a lot of football left this spring.